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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 10

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-17


2 Kings 10:1-17

B.C. 842-814

"The devil can quote Scripture for his purpose."


BUT the work of Jehu was not yet over. He was established at Jezreel: he was lord of the palace and seraglio of his master: the army of Israel was with him. But who could be sure that no civil war would arise, as between the partisans of Zimri and Omri, as between Omri and Tibni? Ahab, first of the kings of Israel, had left many sons. There were no less than seventy of these princes at Samaria. Might there not be among them some youth of greater courage and capacity than the murdered Jehoram? And could it be anticipated that the late dynasty was so utterly unfortunate and execrated as to have none left to do them reverence, or to strike one blow on their behalf, after nearly half a century of undisputed sway? Jehu’s coup de main had been brilliantly successful. In one day he had leapt into the throne. But Samaria was strong upon its watchtower hill. It was full of Ahab’s sons, and had not yet declared on Jehu’s side. It might be expected to feel some gratitude to the dynasty which Jehu had supplanted, seeing that it owed to the grandfather of the king whom he had just slain its very existence as the capital of Israel.

He would put a bold face on his usurpation, and strike while the iron was hot. He would not rouse opposition by seeming to assume that Samaria would accept his rebellion. He therefore wrote a letter to the rulers of Samaria-which was but a journey of nine hours’ distance from Jezreel-and to the guardians of the young princes, reminding them that they were masters in a strong city, protected with its own contingent of chariots and horses, and well supplied with armor. He suggested that they should select the most promising of Ahab’s sons, make him king, and begin a civil war on his behalf.

The event showed how prudent was this line of conduct. As yet Jehu had not transferred the army from Ramoth-Gilead. He had doubtless taken good care to prevent intelligence of his plans from reaching the adherents of Jehoram in Samaria. To them the unknown was the terrible. All they knew was that "Behold, two kings stood not before him!" The army must have sanctioned his revolt: what chance had they? As for loyalty and affection, if ever they had existed towards this hapless dynasty, they had vanished like a dream. The people of Samaria and Jezreel had once been obedient as sheep to the iron dominance of Jezebel. They had tolerated her idol-abominations, and the insolence of her army of dark-browed priests. They had not risen to defend the prophets of Jehovah, and had suffered even Elijah, twice over, to be forced to flee for his life. They had borne, hitherto without a murmur, the tragedies, the sieges, the famines, the humiliations, with which during these reigns they had been familiar. And was not Jehovah against the waning fortunes of the Beni-Omri? Elijah had undoubtedly cursed them, and now the curse was falling. Jehu must doubtless have let it be known that he was only carrying out the behest of their own citizen the great Elisha, who had sent to him the anointing oil. They could find abundant excuses to justify their defection from the old house, and they sent to the terrible man a message of almost abject submission: - Let him do as he would; they would make no king: they were his servants, and would do his bidding.

Jehu was not likely to be content with verbal or even written promises. He determined, with cynical subtlety, to make them put a very bloody sign-manual to their treaty, by implicating them irrevocably in his rebellion. He wrote them a second mandate.

"If," he said, "ye accept my rule, prove it by your obedience. Cut off the heads of your master’s sons, and see that they are brought to me here tomorrow by yourselves before the evening."

The ruthless order was fulfilled to the letter by the terrified traitors. The king’s sons were with their tutors, the lords of the city. On the very morning that Jehu’s second missive arrived, every one of these poor guiltless youths was unceremoniously beheaded. The hideous, bleeding trophies were packed in fig-baskets and sent to Jezreel.

When Jehu was informed of this revolting present it was evening, and he was sitting at a meal with his friends. He did not trouble himself to rise from his feast or to look at "death made proud by pure and princely beauty." He knew that those seventy heads could only be the heads of the royal youths. He issued a cool and brutal order that they should be piled in two heaps until the morning on either side the entrance of the city gates. Were they watched? or were the dogs and vultures and hyenas again left to do their work upon them? We do not know. In any case it was a scene of brutal barbarism such as might have been witnessed in living memory in Khiva or Bokhara; nor must we forget that even in the last century the heads of the brave and the noble rotted on Westminster Hall and Temple Bar, and over the Gate of York, and over the Tolbooth at Edinburgh, and on Wexford Bridge. The day dawned, and all the people were gathered at the gate, which was the scene of justice. With the calmest air imaginable the warrior came out to them, and stood between the mangled heads of those who but yesterday had been the pampered minions of fortune and luxury. His speech was short and politic in its brutality. "Be yourselves the judges," he said. "Ye are righteous. Jezebel called me a Zimri. Yes! I conspired against my master and slew him: but"-and here he casually pointed to the horrible, bleeding heaps-"who smote all these?" The people of Jezreel and the lords of Samaria were not only passive witnesses of’ his rebellion; they were active sharers in it. They had dabbled their hands in the same blood. Now they could not choose but accept his dynasty: for who was there besides himself? And then, changing his tone, he does not offer "the tyrant’s devilish plea, necessity," to cloak his atrocities, but-like a Romish inquisitor of Seville or Granada-claims Divine sanction for his sanguinary violence. This was not his doing. He was but an instrument in the hands of fate. Jehovah is alone responsible. He is doing what He spake by His servant Elijah. Yes! and there was yet more to do; for no word of Jehovah’s shall fall to the ground.

With the same cynical ruthlessness, and cold indifference to smearing his robes in the blood of the slain, he carried out to the bitter end his task of policy which he gilded with the name of Divine justice. Not content with slaying Ahab’s sons, he set himself to extirpate his race, and slew all who remained to him in Jezreel, not only his kith and kin, but every lord and every Baal priest who favored his house, until he left him none remaining. But what a frightful picture do these scenes furnish us of the state of religion and even of civilization in Jezreel! There was this man-eating tiger of a king wallowing in the blood of princes, and enacting scenes which remind us of Dahomey and Ashantee, or of some Tartary khanate where human hands are told out in the market-place after some avenging raid. And amid all this savagery, squalor, and Turkish atrocity, the man pleads the sanction of Jehovah, and claims, unrebuked, that he is only carrying out the behests of Jehovah’s prophets! It is not until long afterwards that the voice of a prophet is heard repudiating his plea and denouncing his bloodthirstiness. {Hosea 1:4}

"An evil soul producing holy witness

Is like a villain with a smiling cheek-

A goodly apple rotten at the core."

Verses 12-28


2 Kings 10:12-28

B.C. 842

"Jehu, sur les hauts lieux, enfin osant offrir

Un temeraire encens que Dieu ne peut souffrir,

N’a pour servir sa cause et venger ses injures

Ni le coeur assez droit, ni les mains assez pures."


AFTER such abject subservience had been shown him by the lords of Samaria and Jezreel, Jehu evidently had no further shadow of apprehension. He seems to have loved blood for its own sake-to have been seized by a vertigo of blood-poisoning. Having waded through slaughter to a throne, he loved to wash his footsteps in the blood of the slain, and to stretch to the very uttermost-to stretch until it cracked all its raveled threads-the Divine sanction claimed by his fanaticism or his hypocrisy.

When he had finished his massacres at Jezreel, he went to Samaria. It was only a journey of a few hours. On the high road he met a company of travelers, whose escorts and rich apparel showed that they were persons of importance. They were about to halt, perhaps for refreshment, at the shearing-house of the shepherds-the place in which the sheep were gathered before they were shorn.

"Who are ye?" he asked.

They answered that they were princes of the house of Judah, the brethren of Ahaziah, on their way to see the two kings at Jezreel, and to salute their cousins, the children of Jehoram, and their kinsfolk the children of Jezebel the Gebirah. The answer sealed their fate. Jehu ordered his followers to take them alive. At first he had not decided what he would do with them. But half measures had now become impossible. This cavalcade of princes little knew that they were on their way to greet the dead children of a dead king and a dead queen. Jehu felt that the possibilities of an endless vendetta must be quenched in blood. He gave orders to slay them, and there in one hour forty-two more scions of the royal houses of Judah and Israel were done to death. With the usual reckless insouciance of the East, where any tank or well is made the natural receptacle for corpses regardless of ultimate consequences, their bodies were flung into the cistern of the shearing-house, in which the sheep were washed before shearing, just as the bodies of Gedaliah’s followers were flung by Ishmael into the well at Mizpah, and the bodies of our own murdered countrymen were flung into the well of Cawnpore. He did not leave one of them alive.

Thus Jehu "murdered two kings, and one hundred and twelve princes, and gave Queen Jezebel to dogs to eat; and if priests had but noticed how even Hosea condemns and denounces his savagery, they would have abstained from some of their glorifications of assassins and butchers, nor would they have appealed to this man’s hideous example, as they have done, to excuse some of their own revolting atrocities." But

"Crime was ne’er so black

As ghostly cheer and pious thanks to lack,

Satan is modest.

At heaven’s door he lays His evil offspring, and in Scriptural phrase

And saintly posture gives to God the praise

And honor of his monstrous progeny."

One cruel deed more or less was nothing to Jehu. Leaving this tank choked with death and incarnadined with royal blood, he went on his way as if nothing particular had happened. He had not proceeded far when he saw a man well known to him, and of a spirit kindred to his own. It was the Arab ascetic and Nazarite Jehonadab, the son of Rechab (or "The Rider"), the chief of the tribe of Kenites who had flung in their lot with the children of Israel since the days of Moses. It was the tribe which had produced a Jael; and Jehonadab had something of the fierce, fanatical spirit of the ancient chieftains, who, in her own tent, had dashed out with the tent-peg the brains of Sisera. His very name, "The Lord is noble," indicated that he was a worshipper of Jehovah, and his fierce zeal showed him to be a genuine Kenite. Disgusted with the wickedness of cities, disgusted above all with the loathly vice of drunkenness, which, as we see from the contemporary prophets, had begun in this age to acquire fresh prominence in luxurious and wealthy communities, he exacted of his sons a solemn oath that neither they nor their successors would drink wine nor strong drink, and that, shunning the squalor and corruption of cities, they would live in tents, as their nomad ancestors had done in the days when Jethro and Hobab were princes of pastoral Midian. We learn from Jeremiah, nearly two and a half centuries later, how faithfully that oath had been observed; and, how, in spite of all temptation, the vow of abstinence was maintained, even when the strain of foreign invasion had driven the Rechabites into Jerusalem from their desolated pastures.

Jehu knew that the stern fanaticism of the Kenite Emir would rejoice in his exterminating zeal, and he recognized that the friendship and countenance of this "good man and just," as Josephus calls him, would add strength to his cause, and enable him to carry out his dark design. He therefore blessed him.

"Is thine heart right with my heart, as my heart is with thy heart?" he asked, after he had returned the greeting of Jehonadab.

"It is, it is!" answered the vehement Rechabite. "Then give me thy hand," he said; and grasping the Arab by the hand, he pulled him up into his chariot-the highest distinction he could bestow upon him-and bade him come and witness his zeal for Jehovah.

His first task on arriving at Samaria was to tear up the last fibers of Ahab’s kith and destroy all his partisans. This was indeed to push to a self-interested extreme the denunciation which had been pronounced upon Ahab; but the crime helped to secure his fiercely founded throne.

One deep-seated plot was yet unaccomplished. It was the total extermination of Baal-worship. To drive out forever this orgiastic, corrupt, and alien idolatry was right; but there is nothing to show that Jehu would have been unable to effect this purpose by one stern decree, together with the destruction of Baal’s images and temple. A method so simply righteous did not suit this Nero-Torquemada, who seemed to be never happy unless he united Jesuitical cunning with the pouring out of rivers of massacre.

He summoned the people together; and as though he now threw off all pretence of zeal for orthodoxy, he proclaimed that Ahab had served Baal a little, but Jehu would serve him much. The Samaritans must have been endowed with infinite gullibility if they could suppose that the king who had ridden into the city side by side with such a man as Jehonadab-"the warrior in his coat of mail, the ascetic in his shirt of hair"-who had already exhibited an unfathomable cunning, and had swept away the Baal priests of Jezreel, was indeed sincere in this new conversion. Perhaps they felt it dangerous to question the sincerity of kings. The Baal-worshippers of former days were known, and Jehu proclaimed that if any one of them was missing at the great sacrifice which he intended to offer to Baal he should be put to death. A solemn assembly to Baal was proclaimed, and every apostate from God to nature-worship from all Israel was present, till the idol’s temple was thronged from, end to end. To add splendor to the solemnity, Jehu bade the wardrobe-keeper to bring out all the rich vestments of Tyrian dye and Sidonian broidery, and clothe the worshippers. Solemnly advancing to the altar with the Rechabite by his side, he warned the assembly to see that their gathering was not polluted by the presence of a single known worshipper of Jehovah. Then, apparently, he still further disarmed suspicion by taking a personal part in offering the burnt-offering. Meanwhile, he had surrounded the temple and blocked every exit with eighty armed warriors, and had threatened that any one of them should be put to death if he let a single Baal-worshipper escape. When he had finished the offering, he went forth, and bade his soldiers enter, and slay, and slay, and slay till none were left. Then flinging the corpses in a heap, they made their way to the fortress of the Temple, where some of the priests may have taken refuge. They dragged out and burnt the matstseboth of Baal, broke down the great central idol, and utterly dismantled the whole building. To complete the pollution of the dishallowed shrine, he made it a common midden for Samaria, which it continued to be for centuries afterwards. {Comp. Ezra 6:11; Daniel 2:5} It was his last voluntary massacre. The House of Ahab was no more. Baal worship in Israel never survived that exterminating blow.

Happily for the human race, such atrocities committed in the name of religion have not been common. In Pagan history we have but few instances, except the slaughter of the Magians at the beginning of the reign of Darius, son of Hystagpes. Alas that other parallels should be furnished by the abominable tyranny of a false Christianity, blessed and incited by popes and priests! The persecutions and massacres of the Albigenses, preached by Arnold of Citeaux, and instigated by Pope Innocent III; the expulsion of the Jews from Spain; the deadly work of Torquemada; the murderous furies of Alva among the hapless Netherlanders, urged and approved by Pope Plus V; the massacre of St. Bartholomew, for which Pope Gregory and his cardinals sang their horrible Te Deum in their desecrated shrines, -these are the parallels to the deeds of Jehu. He has found his chief imitators among the votaries of a blood-stained and usurping sacerdotalism, which has committed so many crimes and inflicted so many horrors on mankind.

And did God approve all this detestable mixture of zealous enthusiasm with lying deceit and the insatiate thirst of blood?

If right be right, and wrong be wrong, the answer must not be an elaborate subterfuge, but an uncompromising "No!" We need be under no doubt on that subject. Christ Himself reproved His Apostles for savage zealotry, and taught them that the Elijah-spirit was not the Christ-spirit. Nor is the Elisha-spirit the Christian spirit any the more if these deeds of hypocrisy and blood were in any sense approved by him who is sometimes regarded as the mild and gentle Elisha. Where was he? Why was he silent? Could he possibly approve of this murderer’s fury? We do not, indeed, know how far Elisha lent his sanction to anything more than the general end. Ahab’s house had been doomed to vengeance by the voice which gave utterance to the verdict of the national conscience. The doom was just; Jehu was ordained to be the executioner. In no other way could the judgment be carried out. The times were not sentimental. The murder of Jehoram was not regarded as an act of tyrannicide, but of divinely commissioned justice. Elisha may have shrunk from the unreined furies of the man whom he had sent his emissary to anoint. On the other hand, we have not the least proof that he did so. He partook, probably, of the wild spirit of the times, when such deeds were regarded with feelings very different from the abhorrence with which we, better taught by the spirit of love, and more enlightened by the widening dawn of history; now justly regard them. No remonstrance of contemporary prophecy, however faint, is recorded as having been uttered against the doings of Jehu. The fact that several centuries later they could be recorded by the historian without a syllable of reprobation shows that the education of nations in the lessons of righteousness is slow, and that we are still amid the annals of the deep night of moral imperfection. But the nation was on the eve of purer teaching, and in the prophets Amos and Hosea we read the clear condemnation of deeds of cruelty in general, and specially of the king who felt no pity. Amos condemns even the idolatrous King of Edom, "because he did pursue his brother with the sword, and did cast off all pity, and his anger did tear perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever." {Amos 1:11} He condemns no less severely the Chemosh worshipping King of Moab even for an insult done to the dead: "Because he burned the bones of the King of Edom into lime." {; Amos 2:1} Jehu had warred pitilessly upon the living, and had shamelessly insulted the dead. He had flung the heads of seventy princes in two bleeding heaps on the common road for all eyes to stare upon, and he had polluted the cistern of Beth-equed-haroim with the dead bodies of forty-two youths of the royal house of Judah. He might plead that he was but carrying out to the full the commission of Jehovah, imposed upon him by Elisha; but Hosea, a century later, gives God’s message against his house: "Yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel." {Hosea 1:4}

Nay, more! If, as is possible, the ghastly story of the siege of Samaria, narrated in the memoirs of Elisha, is displaced, and if it really belongs to the reign of Jehoahaz ben-Jehu, then Elisha himself brands the cruelty of the rushing thunderbolt of vengeance which his own hand had launched. For he calls the unnamed "King of Israel!" "the son of a murderer."

Men who are swords of God, and human executioners of Divine justice, may easily deceive themselves. God works the ends of His own providence, and He uses their ministry. "The fierceness of man shall turn to Thy praise, and the fierceness of them shalt Thou refrain." {Psalms 76:10} But they can never make their plea of prophetic sanction a cloak of maliciousness. Cromwell had stern work to do. Rightly or wrongly, he deemed it inevitable, and did not shrink from it. But he hated it. Over and over again, he tells us, he had prayed to God that He would not put him to this work. To the best of his power he avoided, he minimized, every act of vengeance even when the sternness of his Puritan sense of righteousness made him look on it as duty. Far different was the case of Jehu. He loved murder and cunning for their own sakes, and, like Joab, he dyed the garments of peace with the blood of war.

How little was his gain! It had been happier for him if he had never mounted higher than the captaincy of the host, or even so high. He reigned for twenty-eight years (842-814)-longer than any king except his great-grandson Jeroboam II; and in recognition of any element of righteousness which had actuated his revolt, his children, even to the fourth generation, were suffered to sit upon the throne. His dynasty lasted for one hundred and thirteen years. But his own reign was only memorable for defeat, trouble, and irreparable disaster.

For Hazael, who had seized the throne of his murdered lord Benhadad, was a fierce and able warrior, he held his own against the overweening might of his northern neighbor Assyria; and whenever he obtained a respite from this desperate warfare, he indemnified himself for all losses by enlarging his dominion out of the territories of the Ten Tribes. "In those days the Lord began to cut Israel short, and Hazael smote them in all the borders of Israel." Jehu had the mortification of seeing the fairest and most fruitful regions of his dominion, those which had belonged to Israel from the most ancient times, wrenched out of his grasp. From this time forwards Israel lost half the fair Promised Land which God had given to their fathers. It was the beginning of the end. Henceforth the tribal inheritance of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh was an oppressed dependency of Aram. Hazael overran and annexed the land of Bashan from the spurs of Mount Hermon to the Lake of Gennezareth; Gaulan, and volcanic Argob, and Hauran the entire ancient kingdom of Og, King of Bashan, with all the herds and pasture lands. Southward of this he seized the whole forest-clad plateau of Gilead, with its lovely ravines, north of the Jabbok, the territory of Gad; and pushing still southward, established his sway over the district of the Ammonites and the tribe of Reuben, as far as the city of Aroer, on the other side of the great chasm of Arnon (Wady Mojib). All the fatness of Bashan and Rabbah with her watery plain of the Beni-Ammon, and the grass-covered uplands which fed the enormous flocks of Mesha, the great Emir and sheep-master of Moab, passed from Israel to Syria, never to be recovered. What made the humiliation more terrible was that the invasion and conquest were accompanied with acts of unwonted cruelty. Elisha had wept to think what evil Hazael would do the children of Israel {2 Kings 8:12} -how he would set their strongholds on fire, and slay their young men with the sword, and dash in pieces their little ones, and rip up their women with child. These atrocities were in those horrible days the ordinary incidents of warfare; {; Isaiah 13:11-16 Hosea 10:14; Hosea 13:16 Nahum 3:10} but Hazael seems to have been preeminent in brutal fierceness. It was this which called down on him and his people the "burdens" of Amos. "Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron: but I will send a fire into the house of Hazael, which shall devour the palaces of Benhadad." {; Amos 1:3-4}

We can imagine rather than describe the anguish of Jehu when he was compelled to look impotently on, while his powerful Syrian neighbor laid waste his dominion with fire and sword, and the cry of his despoiled and slaughtered subjects was uplifted to him in vain. Nor was this all. Emboldened by these reverses, a host of other enemies, once subjugated and despised, began to wreak their revenge and insolence on humbled Israel. The Philistines eagerly undertook the sale of the wretched captives who were brought to them in gangs from the burnt Trans-Jordanic towns. {Amos 1:6-15} The old "brotherly covenant" with the Tyrian, which had once been formed by Solomon, and had been cemented by the marriage of Jezebel with Ahab, was cancelled by Jehu’s insults, and the Tyrians emulously outbid the Philistines in the purchase of Israelitish slaves. The Edomites and the Ammonites also helped Hazael in his marauding raids, and enlarged their own domains at the expense of Samaria. Such insults and humiliations might well go far to break the heart of an impetuous and warrior-king.

Of Jehu the Books of Kings and Chronicles have no more to tell us, but we gain fresh insight into his degradation from the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser II (860-824), now in the British Museum. From the inscription we find that, in 842, Jehu-"the son of Omri," as he is erroneously called-was one of the vassal kings who subjected themselves to the Assyrian conqueror, and sent him tribute, which may have euphemistically passed under the name of presents. The despot of Nineveh twice speaks of it as a tribute. On this obelisk we see a picture of Jehu’s ambassadors-perhaps of Jehu himself. On the left stands the Assyrian King with the winged circle over his head. He holds a beaker of wine in his hand, and two eunuchs stand behind him one of whom covers him with a sunshade. Before him kneels and grovels in adoration the Jewish King, with his beard sweeping the ground. In long array behind him come his servants-first two eunuchs, then a number of bearded figures, who carry the tribute. They are dressed in long richly fringed robes, exactly resembling those of the Assyrians themselves, and they wear shoes which turn up at the toes. They are carrying figures of gold and silver, goblets, golden vessels, ingots of precious metals, spear-shafts, a kingly scepter, baskets, bags, and trays of treasure, the contribution of which must have fallen with crushing weight on the impoverished kingdom.

This tribute must have been sent in 842, the eighteenth year of Shalmaneser II’s reign. Doubtless Jehu thought he might be delivered from his furious neighbor Hazael by propitiating the Northern tyrant, who at the same time received the submission of the Tyrians and Sidonians. But if so, Jehu’s hopes were dashed to the ground. Shalmaneser was the enemy of Hazael (Ha-sa-ilu), who had gone out to meet him at Antilibanus, and there had fought a desperate battle. The Syrian King was routed, and driven back, and Shalmaneser had besieged Damascus. But he had failed to take it, and indeed had not troubled Syria again till 832, when he made an excursion of minor importance. His troubles on the north and east of Assyria had diverted his attention from Damascus; and this, together with the inferiority of his son Samsiniras (d. 811), had given Hazael a free hand to avenge himself on Israel as the ally of Assyria. Of Jehu we hear no more. After his long reign of twenty-eight years he slept with his fathers, and was buried in Samaria, and Jehoahaz his son reigned in his stead. Savage as had been his measures, his victory over alien idolatries was by no means complete. What Micah calls "the statutes of Omri, and the works of the House of Ahab," {Micah 6:16} were still kept; and men, both in Israel and Judah, walked in their old sins. Even in the reign of Jehu’s own son Jehoahaz there still remained in Samaria the Asherah, or tree consecrated to the nature-goddess, which Jehu seems to have put away, but not to have destroyed. {; 2 Kings 13:6} As he groveled in the dust before Shalmaneser, did no memory of his own ferocities darken his humiliated soul? Must not he, like our Henry II, have been inclined to utter the wailing cry, "Shame, shame on a conquered king!"

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Kings 10". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/2-kings-10.html.
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